Declining sperm counts, voodoo and conjure country

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A recent issue of the journal, Human Reproductions, reports that during the period 1989-2005, sperm count in young and middle-aged French men declined from 73.6 million per ml to 49.0 million per ml. A count of 55 million per ml is considered the threshold below which the probability of conception is likely to be affected. Men with counts of 15 million or less are usually infertile.

Researchers have not determined why the surprising decline has occurred. Possible causes suggested are exposure to chemicals, especially endocrine (hormonal) disruptors, such as estrogenic chemicals; body-mass indices; stress; nutrition; high fat intake; smoking; alcohol consumption; and exposure to nuclear radiation. France gets about 77.1 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants.

French have the highest concentrations of pesticides in their bodies than residents of any other European country. Although French people are fairly heavy users of alcohol, residents of Israel, Tunisia, India and New Zealand consume relatively little, but sperm counts in men of those countries are also declining.

Professor Richard Sharpe of the University of Edinburgh says, “Something in our modern lifestyle, diet or chemicals is causing this, or it may be a combination (of things). We just don’t know.”

Reproductive health specialists are concerned not only about declining sperm counts, but also about sperm quality. An increase in misshapen sperm has been detected, and these are “bad-swimmers,” the specialists say.

Worries about falling sperm counts were first triggered by observations made by Danish researchers in 1992 who reported that the quantity and quality of sperm produced by Danish men declined by 50 percent between 1938 and 1991. Whether changes in sperm produced by American men are occurring has apparently not been noticed, with the exception of an observation made by researchers in Boston, who reported relatively low sperm counts in young Bostonian sperm donors.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina studying sperm production report that exposing testes to ultrasonic waves may stop sperm from being produced for up to six months, which may offer a new low-cost birth control option, with apparently no adverse side effects.

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Two observations lead me to believe that some folks in these parts believe in voodoo. About 25 years ago, I was walking the woods on the backside of my property and noticed that someone had gathered some lighter wood and placed it in a pile. I arranged some rocks into a pentagon next to the pile, and in the center I stuck a stick atop which I mounted a deer skull. The lighter wood remained untouched.

Next was the disappearance of a can of Red Devil lye from a shelf in my office. I had told one of my students that some folks believed that Red Devil lye could be used to remove a hex or conjure that a voodoo man had placed on a residence, and that the product had been taken off the market. Not long afterward, the student brought me a can of Red Devil lye he’d bought in a country store. I placed the can on a shelf and within a few months it was gone. It is the only thing that was ever stolen from my office. I learned later that Red Devil lye is used in making methamphetamine.

In the book, Stars Fell on Alabama, written in 1934 by Carl Carmer, who spent six years as a visiting professor at the University of Alabama, a map depicts the southeastern quadrant of the state as “Conjure Country.” One chapter, “Conjure Woman,” tells of a black woman from Hogansville who called herself Seven Sisters and was considered to be a voodoo expert. She tells the author some of her “how to’s,” e.g. to keep your wife from flirting; to get a girl to sleep with you; to give your rival bad luck; to get revenge on an enemy; and to cure warts.

She tells about the uses of John the Conqueror root mixed with May water (the first water that falls from the roof during May), which will bring you luck in gambling and business. I did some research on the root and found that it is derived from a plant in the morning glory genus, Ipomea. When dried, the root of the plant resembles the scrotum of a dark-skinned man. John the Conqueror was a slave whose spirit allegedly was never broken and who survived to become a conjure man.

I also researched conjure, voodoo, hoodoo, and root doctor. Voodoo and witchcraft obviously have many practitioners and followers.

Mini-quiz: “From goulies, ghosties, and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us,” was a passage found where?

Answer: Anglican Family Prayer Book. I learned this from Dr. Dan Speake, who attended the University of the South, an Episcopalian institution.

 

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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